Black History Month Theme: Resistance - A Key to Positive Change

Tara C.

“Resistance” is the theme of Black History Month 2023. Let's take a moment to understand how resistance is the key to positive changes in everything from nature to the nation.

Resistance just means not accepting the “status quo” of evils in society. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a civil rights protest during which African Americans refused to ride city buses in Montgomery, Alabama, to protest and resist segregated seating. The incident where Rosa Parks refused to vacate the seat for a white person, is one of the first that started this movement. Nonviolent resistance was practiced throughout the American civil rights movement.
Rosa Parks is sitting on a bus.Photo

Resistance involves sacrifice

When Rosa Parks refused to vacate the seat for a white person, she was placed in custody. This resulted in Parks later losing her job. Resistance often involves sacrifice and pain. Pain could be mental or physical. When people practice resistance they understand the implications, but the thought that today’s pain will be tomorrow’s gain drives their actions. The long-term impact for generations due to resistance inspires and makes them ready for the difficult path involving sacrifice.

In day-to-day life, we see resistance at all levels from nature to the nation. This also includes internal mental resistance to our decisions and actions involving ethics and social behavior.

Resistance and nature

We even need to cause resistance to natural acts to make our lives better. Diverting the water of naturally downward flowing water and passing through a turbine produces electricity. Adding a resistor in the path of free-flowing electricity can produce light is another example. Ladder farming is yet another example of creating resistance to the path of free-flowing water to grow crops on slanted land.
Ladder farming causes resistance to water flow.Photo

Self-restraint (yama) and inner resistance

Self-restraint (yama) is the first limb of the eightfold path of Yoga as compiled by sage Patanjali in 200 BC. This means resistance to our desires and temptations which are triggered by the five senses of eyesight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. To make a change in our lifestyle, one has to pursue resistance to the natural tendency to satisfy the temptation of the senses. The path of second yama nonviolence (ahimsa) followed by Dr. King, Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi is such an example. This is covered in detail in my previous NewsBreak article which can be accessed here.

During the pandemic, we ran into a shortage of tissues and towels, whenever we saw some available, the natural tendency may be to collect and store as much as we can for ourselves. Alternatively, we can resist this desire and follow the principle of the fourth yama, no greed (aparigraha) which teaches us to take only what we need and keep only what serves us at the moment.
Hoarding during the COVID outbreak.Photo

Personal experience

A few years back my employer made an accounting mistake and gave a few thousand dollars extra to some employees. The company then gave the option to either keep the extra money or return it. I talked to my then manager and said that this is not my money and I would like to return the extra money received. She was surprised and said, “What! You wanted to return this significant amount of money even though you are given the option to keep it.” I went through the struggle of resistance for a few days constantly thinking about the third yama non-stealing (asteya) which means that we should not take what is not ours. I could not accept this money and finally gave the check back to the company.

Resistance and revolution

Persistent and widespread resistance takes shape of a revolution that results in significant changes in society. To ensure that the Montgomery bus boycott could be sustained, black leaders organized carpools, and the city’s African American taxi drivers charged only 10 cents, the same price as bus fare for African American riders. As a result of this on June 5, 1956, a Montgomery federal court ruled that any law requiring racially segregated seating on buses violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. When resistance to evil takes the form of a revolution, injustice in society goes away. Let's learn from Black History and see how we can take inspiration and be means of changes in ourselves and society by practicing resistance at both internal and external levels.

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Senior Technologist | Community Volunteer

California State

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